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Page last updated at 14:28 GMT, Thursday, 7 May 2009 15:28 UK

Irish army finds Chad 'too hard'

Irish Rangers in Chad (image: Irish Defence Forces website)
Irish troops have served with the UN across the world for decades

The head of the Irish UN battalion in Chad has banned troops from playing football, saying the arid country's hard ground is a health risk.

Defence Minister Willie O'Dea told parliament that 34 soldiers had been repatriated, half of them for injuries, since the mission started last year.

"As far as I am aware, one soldier suffered a serious injury as a result of engaging in sport," he said.

Irish ground, he pointed out, was "not nearly as hard".

The Irish Republic has a 400-strong battalion deployed in Chad as part of a UN-mandated, EU-led peacekeeping mission to both that country and the Central African Republic (CAR).

Troops are drawn from across the EU, with France the biggest contributor.

'Indoor judo okay'

"The reality in Chad is that the ground is extremely hard," Mr O'Dea said.

"Some of the sports are played out on open ground and when people fall, it tends to have a much greater impact on their bodies than falling in a field in Ireland."

The cost of repatriating the 34 troops had been about 60,000 euros ($79,700), he said, but he denied the ban was related to finances.

When one soldier broke his shoulder in a sporting incident, he "had to be repatriated at short notice" and flew on a commercial flight along with a medic, who then returned, the defence minister said.

Including the cost of the medic's return flight, the bill came to 8,000 euros, Mr O'Dea was quoted as saying by The Irish Times.

The Irish commander decided on the ban after carrying out a risk assessment but, the minister added, soldiers could still run.

There was also a gym "which includes such facilities as mats for engagement in judo and other self-defence activities which may assist personnel in warding off assaults".

Brian O'Shea, defence spokesman for the opposition Labour Party, asked whether it was "overdoing" the "health and safety aspect" to ban soccer and volleyball when, as far as he was aware, there was only one sports injury.

"Physical contact sports, be they in Chad or in Ireland, are a good way of letting off steam and of relaxing at the end of the day," he said.

"The soldiers in Chad are in a pretty tough environment."



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